Object: Shawl

Black wool shawl with silk fringe
North America
Late 19th century /early 20th century
Materials: Wool, thread, silk

Shawls are worn by Native Americans throughout North America as a part of traditional regalia. Shawls of this type are associated with plains culture dance clothes. This style of shawl was originally introduced to Native Americans via Spanish traders. Shawls are either folded and hung over the arm of a dancer wearing a complete ensemble of traditional native dress, or can be wrapped around a dancer wearing contemporary clothing.

Shawls are made using a variety of materials suited for its purpose. They are usually constructed from a square or rectangle long enough to be folded in half and wrapped around the dancer. They are then hemmed and two strands of fringe are strung through the hem and tied (with an over hand knot) at varying distances (usually 1” apart or less) on all four sides of the fabric. Sometimes these shawls are decorated with additional materials. These decorations can be custom patterns for particular individuals or groups. In other cases the shawl design is less personal in nature and may simply be a commercial design.

The fringe work on this shawl displays a network of diamond patterns, a technique known as double tying. In contemporary outfits the use of this technique is slowly declining because it is very time consuming, especially when more fringe is used. Double tying involves taking a single piece of fringe from one section of fringe and tying that to a strand of fringe from a neighboring section of fringe. This is repeated all the way around the shawl, and continued further down towards the ends of the fringe until the desired length of pattern is achieved. [Ashley Hunter]

For more information on Native American dances and traditional garments see:

Native American Dance: A Synergy of Dance, Drama and Religion by Denee Bannister or
The National Museum of the American Indian Celebrates Native American Dance
Regalia: American Indian Dress and Dance by Russell Peters and Richard Haynes
How to make a Native American dance shawl by Full Circle Videos

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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